Every year NBA execs and other front office members spend hours upon hours combing through college basketball’s best and brightest in hopes of finding the next superstar player. Inevitably there are players who simply don’t work out at the next level despite their incredible successes in the amateur ranks. With mostly type A, alpha dogs in these board rooms, there are countless debates had regarding which player a franchise should select to be the new face of the team. NBA front offices are full of ex-players who believe they understand the game better than anyone else, and that they know exactly what to look for when scouting young talent. Of course, mistakes are made, and people end up being fired. But hey, that’s the business.
Since the first draft in 1947 there have been busts. It is understandable. Back then there was no Youtube footage, every player was not scouting as rigorously as they do today, and teams simply didn’t have the resources to know every kid from every school in the country. Today’s scouting is at an insane level. NBA teams have scouts at every high school in the country, and forget about college. The scouting departments of NBA teams might be the largest department of the franchise. It is fascinating to see how often teams make complete gaffs in the draft, but to be fair, I cannot say that I saw some of these busts coming either, but I am not a professional scout either. Today we will take a look at the 15 biggest NBA draft failures since 2000, and there are plenty to choose from.
15. Jonny Flynn – 7th overall, 2009
The 2009 draft was full of unknowns, and Jonny Flynn was one of those unknowns. He had been a productive point guard for a great Syracuse team, but it was unclear if he was the reason for the teams success. Picking Flynn was not the worst move made in the ’09 draft, but what makes it so puzzling is the pick that was made right before him. The Timberwolves held the sixth and seventh picks that year. They were a horrible team who needed help in every area of the court. The Wolves selected Spaniard Ricky Rubio with the sixth pick. Rubio was an unproven teenager who had yet to play against anything close to NBA talent, but he was a point guard.
Most experts saw the Flynn pick as a way for the Wolves to make a trade, since they obviously didn’t need two rookie point guards. But Minnesota tried to make it work with Flynn at the point spot, but of course it never worked out. Flynn ultimately was traded and his career fizzled out after only three years in the NBA.
14. Joel Embiid – 3rd overall, 2014
Joel Embiid is on the fast track up this list. He has been an NBA player for over two years now, and still has yet to see a single minute of game action. In 2014 the 76ers used the third overall pick on the promising athletic big man. The Sixers passed up on Aaron Gordon and Marcus Smart in favor of Embiid, however injuries have been a constant for Joel. Shortly after his first and final season at Kansas, Embiid suffered a broken navicular bone in his foot which ruled him out for at least six months, yet the Sixers drafted him anyway. The injury ended up costing him his entire rookie season.
In June 2015, it was revealed that Joel had suffered a set back in his recovery and he would likely miss the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Ultimately he needed another surgery on his foot and he was forced to miss the entire season. So at this point, Embiid has yet to play a single moment in the NBA, however he has been paid over $9 million.
13. Jay Williams – 2nd overall, 2002
The Bulls drafted Jay Williams second overall in the 2002 draft, and they felt pretty good about it after his rookie season. Williams played well during his rookie campaign, even recording a triple double. To no fault of their own however, the Bulls ultimately regretted drafting Williams. Jay had always been a risk taker, usually to his benefit, however when he decided to take his motorcycle out for a spin during the offseason he did not benefit from this risk. Jay crashed his motorcycle and also ruined his basketball career. Williams suffered a plethora of serious injuries and was never able to get back to the NBA. The Bulls were forced to release him and move forward without their second overall draft pick.
Williams would bounce back though. He is now the face of ESPN’s College Basketball Game Day. Fortunately for Jay, he always had a great personality as well as incredibly high basketball IQ, so the transition to television was almost seamless for him.
12. Tyreke Evans – 4th overall, 2009
Tyreke Evans was on his way to superstardom after his breakout Rookie of the Year season. Since that rookie season, however, Tyreke has been battling injuries and is just trying to stay healthy enough to be on the court. He currently plays for the New Orleans Pelicans, and many people believe if he can stay healthy he could help Anthony Davis lead the Pelicans to some playoff success.
The thing that puts Tyreke on this list are the players he was drafted ahead of. When the Kings selected him fourth overall in 2009, they saw something in him. They must have, because they took him over future All-Stars Jeff Teague and DeMar DeRozan. Not only did they let those players pass them by, but Steph Curry was also passed on by the Kings in 2009.
11. Derrick Williams – 2nd overall, 2011
There was some serious talent in the 2011 NBA draft, however, Derrick Williams was not it. Coming out of Arizona, Derrick was an in between type of player. He possessed good size at 6’8″, 240 pounds, but he was not strong enough to be a post player. He also had a good shot for a forward, but he was just too slow to play solid perimeter defense on the fast wing players he would see in the NBA. Williams has been in the NBA for six seasons now, and has yet to have a season with more than 12 points per game. When the Timberwolves drafted Williams second overall in 2011 they had no idea that they were passing up on some of the best two-way players in today’s NBA.
The Wolves passed on Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler in favor of Derrick, a very regrettable decision five years later. Williams did however, have a productive season last year, averaging just over nine points per game while playing in 81 games. He recently signed a new contract with the Miami Heat and is hoping to finally find a home with some stability.
10. Anthony Bennett – 1st overall, 2013
The Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert promised the city a championship when LeBron James left in 2011. Two years later he drafted Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick. This would ultimately prove beneficial for the Cavs, as Bennett would amount to nothing as an NBA player and the Cavs would get another first overall pick, and more assets to encourage LeBron to return home. Bennett was drafted ahead of C.J. McCollum, Steven Adams, and newly minted $100 million man Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Since being drafted first overall, Bennett has more starts in the D-League than he does in the actual NBA, and his career average of 4.2 points per game is nothing short of pathetic for a top draft pick. Bennett’s career in Cleveland lasted all of one season before he was shipped off to Minnesota as part of the deal that brought Kevin Love to the Cavaliers. After one season in Minnesota, Bennett’s contract was bought out and he became a free agent. He recently signed a one year contract with his hometown Toronto Raptors. That didn’t work out either and Bennett is getting yet another chance this year, with the Brooklyn Nets.
9. Dion Waiters – 4th overall, 2012
Another great selection by Dan Gilbert and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The season after they lost LeBron James the Cavs drafted undersized, often confrontational, Dion Waiters with the fourth pick in the draft. The Cavs selected the diminutive guard over Andre Drummond, Damian Lillard, and Draymond Green back in 2012. Waiters made the Cavs look even more silly for drafting him when it was revealed that he refused to workout for any teams prior to the draft. Waiters told the Cavs, and all the other teams that he was not going to workout for them because he had already been promised to be drafted in the lottery by a general manager whom he never named.
Once LeBron James arrived back in Cleveland the fun and games were over for Dion and he was quickly shipped out of town, many believe thanks to LeBron and his no nonsense approach to the regular season. Waiters spent a season and a half with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and during this offseason he signed a new contract with the Miami Heat.
8. Eddy Curry – 4th overall, 2001
Eddy Curry was one of the best high school players ever in the state of Illinois, a state plentiful in its high school basketball talent. Curry came straight out of high school and into the NBA, back when that was still allowed. The Bulls selected him fourth overall with incredibly high hopes. The Bulls had been a franchise lost since the retirement of Michael Jordan, and they looked to Eddy as a savior of sorts. Once his NBA career began it was obvious that Curry lacked the maturity (like many straight from high school players) to be a star at the NBA level. His weight was a constant issue throughout his career. Curry also had heart issues as his career progressed. It got to the point where it appeared he would have to retire from the game due to his unhealthy heart.
The Bulls would have been better served drafting some of the talent that was picked up after Curry was taken off the board. Players like Shane Battier, Zach Randolph, or Tony Parker would have been decent choices.
7. Adam Morrison – 3rd overall, 2006
As we said in the intro, sometimes ex-players become front office executives. This is true for the great Michael Jordan. Jordan was the president of basketball operations for the Bobcats in 2006. The Bobcats also had the third overall pick in the 2006 draft, and this was an opportunity for MJ to show he knew what he was doing in the board room. Well Jordan decided he wanted to draft the guy that many people compared to MJ rival Larry Bird. Morrison didn’t quite live up to those expectations. Adam’s NBA career lasted only four seasons, only two with Jordan and the Bobcats.
In his rookie season Morrison averaged a career high 11 points per game which sounds decent for a rookie, but it is important to note that he started the season as a starter and finished as a deep bench player. It didn’t take long for teams to realize Morrison was unable to guard shifty wing players, and his lack of lateral quickness quickly landed him a spot on the bench. Morrison, however may get the last laugh. He was a bench warmer for two NBA championship teams when he spent two seasons with the Lakers led by Kobe and Pau Gasol. Morrison will forever be able to say that he won the NBA championship 50% of his seasons in the NBA.
6. Michael Beasley – 2nd overall, 2008
In 2008 the debate was whether Derrick Rose or Michael Beasley should be drafted first. Well the Bulls decided on Rose, which made the Heat’s choice easy. The only thing about that was that neither Derrick Rose nor Michael Beasley would end up being the best player in that draft. That same year Brook Lopez, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook were in the draft. Beasley ended up being the worst of the five players mentioned, even having to spend time overseas honing his skills for a return the the NBA.
Eight years later it seems Michael has figured something out. Last season he spent most of the year in China where he was the Chinese Basketball Association MVP. After showing he had matured, the Houston Rockets signed him for the remainder of the season last year. He was recently traded from the Rockets to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Tyler Ennis.
5. Kwame Brown – 1st overall, 2001
Number five on the list is Kwame Brown, but we should welcome Michael Jordan back to the list as well. In 2001 Jordan was a young team president, eager to make his mark in the front office opposed to the front court. Jordan was blessed with having the number one overall choice at his disposal, and dispose of it he did. MJ drafted high school star Kwame Brown. He chose Brown over future NBA champions Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and Tyson Chandler, not that he could have known how great those players would turn out to be, but still he is MJ.
Brown was a role player at best during his 13 seasons in the NBA, only once averaging double digit points in his career. Brown bounced around the league, ultimately playing for seven different franchises. Michael Jordan will forever be linked to one of the greatest busts in NBA history, one of very few blemishes on his record.
4. Jimmer Fredette – 10th overall, 2001
Being drafted 10th overall you could ask why Fredette would be so high on this list. Well first of all, it is largely attributed to who the Kings should have drafted instead of the undersized shooter with little defensive skill. The Kings decided they wanted a short spot up shooter rather than a two-way superstar and 3-point champion Klay Thompson. They also decided Fredette would be a better fit than two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard. These are only two players they could have had instead of Jimmer, there are more but I won’t bore you.
Jimmer lasted four years in the NBA, playing for three different organizations. He now plays professionally in China. The Kings are still awful, and the world is exactly how it should be.
3. Hasheem Thabeet – 2nd overall, 2009
Thabeet was a monster defender during his junior season with U-Conn. He blocked over 150 shots that season! With that said, there is still no explanation as to why the Memphis Grizzlies selected him second overall. The 2009 draft was chocked full of future NBA superstars. The Grizzlies choice Thabeet over James Harden, Steph Curry, and DeMar DeRozan. If that is not a colossal mistake I do not know what is.
Thabeet’s NBA career lasted five seasons, in none of which was he able to average more than six points per game, even worse is his career rebounding average of 2.7 per game. He is still looking to find a roster spot, only not in the NBA. He is trying to find a team overseas that will give him a paycheck and some playing time.
2. Greg Oden – 1st overall, 2007
Greg Oden or Kevin Durant; remember that debate? Seems laughable now. Kevin Durant is a former league MVP, league scoring champion and a likely Hall of Famer someday. Oden is currently the student manager for Ohio State’s men’s basketball team, while he waits to hear from the Chinese league about a potential contract.
The Portland Trail Blazers are probably the most unlucky franchise in basketball. They had the chance to draft Michael Jordan in 1984 but instead the took Sam Bowie. They had the chance to draft Kevin Durant but instead the took Oden.
The one time they got it right, they drafted Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy and his knees went out after four All-Star seasons. There is no doubt they do not have luck on their side, however taking Oden over Durant can easily be blamed on their front office.
1. Darko Milicic – 2nd overall, 2003
Darko was a mystery coming into the 2003 draft. What is inexplicable is why the Detroit Pistons would go with a mystery when they had three can’t miss prospects in front of them. After the Cavaliers took LeBron James number one, the Pistons were on the clock. Carmelo Anthony had just led Syracuse to an NCAA title as a freshman, Dwyane Wade took his Marquette team to the Final Four in one of the greatest tournament performances in recent memory, and Chris Bosh was lighting the world on fire at Georgia Tech. Yet for some reason the Pistons went with the unknown Serbian, Darko.
Milicic lasted 10 years in the NBA, bouncing around between six different franchises. After he retired he tried his hand, and feet, at kick boxing. That lasted about six months. He is officially retired from basketball, while the players drafted around him are routinely playing in All-Star Games, and competing for NBA championships.